October 19, 2023

In My Words | Tanner Cadwallader

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Please allow me to tell you a bit about my mom, Delia – ‘Dee’ to those who were lucky enough to have known her.

My mom was very hard to ignore because she just had a way of making her presence known, whether it was from simply smiling at people or just being friendly, to holding a door open and starting a conversation. Her thing was always that even if you’re having a bad day, you don’t put that on someone else. You find a way to make it OK and make it through your day.

She was also the person that everyone would call when they were having a hard day. She would listen and listen and then give you back something, give you back that energy so that you could go about your day and feel a little bit better until you could talk to her again. I did that. I called my mom every day when I was at university.

Everyone that knew her remembers her that way, too. Everybody who speaks to me about my mom always says, ‘Wow. What a woman.’ She was spectacular. She was a really, really spectacular person.

My mom was first diagnosed with ovarian cancer in 2015, about two weeks before I was going to camp at Western for my first year of university. One of my brothers was also off to camp at York University as fullback/linebacker. She told us she was sick and that it was Stage 2, but she also said she was going to be OK. About two or three weeks into school, my brother called me and said school wasn’t for him, that it was too stressful, and he was going to go back home and take care of mom. He also told me to go play and continue to love the game.

But Western was also about 2 ½ hours from our home in Georgetown and mentally I just wasn’t there. My mind was elsewhere. After the season when winter and spring camps came, and I started getting ready for another season while driving back home to Georgetown as often as I could, I just got to a point where I felt so divided. So, I transferred to Wilfrid Laurier and that got me much closer to home.

She sent me a text that April saying she was in remission, and it was like the weight of the world went away. My first year at Laurier she went to pretty much every game she could. She went to the Yates Cup. She went to the Uteck Bowl in Laval – we got smoked 36-6 – but she was there for that. It was one of those things where when you are doing what you love and you have your reason and your purpose, you just execute. Sometimes that helps a loss not feel so bad. My role was as a special teams player and I look back now, and she saw the Yates Cup where I made a special teams tackle and I made a big play against Laval, too. That was the last game she saw me play.

I remember when they first told me she was going into palliative care. At no point do I remember them telling me what that actually meant, though. I was working as a custodian at a hockey arena in Waterloo at the time when we found out she was being moved to palliative care. I thought that meant they were going to maintain the current state – not going to get better, but not going to get worse. I was working with this older custodian and told him my mom had been moved to palliative care and that things were looking up. He was like, ‘Oh, man. I’m so sorry. It’s about to get worse. I’m so sorry I’m the one that has to tell you this, but it’s not going to get easier for you.’ I’m actually thankful he told me that.

I have three older brothers – Geordon, Rory and Haydn – and we were all there on the day my mom passed – May 1st, 2017. I remember that day so vividly. I had spent the whole night in her room the night before. She was in an over-medicated state and couldn’t communicate. I was so tired, but I remember saying things to her like, ‘We’re all going to be OK. We’re going to take care of each other. We have each other and that’s the best gift I’ll ever have’ and then I’d feel her hand squeeze mine a little bit. I told her what came natural to me, things that both made us feel comfortable in that time.

My mom’s best friend Gabrielle came and told us to take a break, get out of the house, and go get some lunch. I remember saying, ‘OK mom, just hold on. We’ll be back soon.’ We were in the driveway and Gabrielle came running back out and said, ‘Guys, come back in right now. She’s going.’ I guess once we said we were going to get lunch and we’d be OK, it was like she knew that was her time to go.

What’s crazy – and I really think this speaks to her energy – was when she passed there was this big hit of thunder and then this huge storm just hammered down. I’ll never forget that. Her heart stopped and then came this huge storm that didn’t stop. That, to me, meant that wherever she was going, she got there. It was just a really, really heavy moment. It made me think about how we choose our moments. There was no fight left, but she really chose her moment.

Now every May 1st I think, where’s that storm?

My mother was born in Liverpool, England and as a tribute to her I have a tattoo of John Lennon’s self-portrait on my left forearm above the elbow. I also have a tattoo above that of a ship with ‘Don’t wait for your ship to come in, row out to meet it’ written below it. She was a writer. That was her passion. She worked in communications for her union after working for 25 years for Air Canada and she put out a newsletter that she was so proud of.

After my mom passed, I went back to Liverpool and reconnected with a lot of my family there. It was another place where you could still feel her energy. All her cousins, all her family… she was everything to them. I was there for my 20th birthday, and we celebrated at this pub called The Edinburgh with the same people she spent her 20th birthday with. That whole night was like a wake. I sat there and listened to how amazing my mom was when she was a kid, when she was a teenager and what she was like in her 20s. That was special.

That saying – ‘Don’t wait for your ship to come in, row out to meet it’ – was featured prominently in our house, too, with a stitched picture of a ship with the inscription beneath it. It’s all about opportunity and seizing it. She had a million things she wanted us to learn and hold on to, but that was most important.

That’s sort of been my career in football, too. If it’s not going, go somewhere where it’s going to go. It happened to me at Western, then to Laurier, then to Italy with the Bologna Warriors and then back to Ontario with the London Beefeaters. And then I got invited to the CFL Combine and CFL people are asking me if I’d consider showing up to camp if they drafted or signed me. And of course, I said I would. If you wanted me there on a certain day, I’d come in days earlier. Football has been my everything. It helped me so much in those moments when I was dealing with turmoil, and everything felt like shit. It was the one thing that was steadfast and always consistent. When I’m out there I’m not thinking about anything but my job and how I can help us win the game.

I think of my mom all the time. And then there are moments that trigger memories… for me it’s often music, like the Sinatra song ‘That’s life.’ There’s a line in there ‘you’re riding high in April, shot down in May’. That was one of her favourite songs. We put together a playlist for her funeral with her when she was still alive and that was on there. And then for her to pass like that, on May 1st, when I hear that song, it gets me right away. Same with anything by The Band or The Beatles. Those were our sing-a-longs. When I’d come home from school on a shit day, she’d put on some song that helped pull me out. Like I said, my mom was a powerful, powerful woman.

It’s all still very heavy for me six years since her passing and so I understand this cause and the importance of our Intercept Cancer game. I have the picture above of my mom on my phone – it’s of one of the last trips she took, this one to the east coast. You can see the coast; you can tell it’s breezy because she’s wearing a scarf and a jacket. Best of all, she’s got this over-the-moon smile. I always look at that picture just for a couple of moments on game day to help get my mind right. It’s just a reminder that life’s too short. Whatever happens, happens. Be excited to be here. Be grateful.

I had a conversation with Coach the other day. I don’t know how the topic came up, but I told him I was genuinely excited to come into work every day. I love coming here. This is everything to me and so much of that approach comes from my mom, her energy, and what she taught me.

Tanner Cadwallader